Life In Small Towns

Day Two: The Twelve Days of Christmas

INTRODUCTION

I like small towns; they tend to be charming, friendly, and peaceful.

Life in a small town can be a blessing, an answer to prayer and a place to escape urban  noise, city crime, and high pressure.  However, they have little to offer in terms of their significance to the world.

Our town got excited when a stop light was installed. It wasn’t a light with red, yellow and green, just a blinking red light purposed to blink for eternity. But it was a big deal, as if our town had risen in status. Does a blinking traffic light qualify for a rise in status?

But, once in a while a small-town kid grows up to be a world-class athlete, a superstar entertainer, or even President. Every now and then an unknown town produces a well known celebrity.

HERE’S AN EXAMPLE

Guess who came from a small town? It was Jesus! He grew up in the tiny village of  Nazareth in central Galilee. It was Mary and Joseph’s home town and a place that  never exceeded five hundred in population. It wasn’t prosperous, famous or exciting. Nobody gave Nazareth much thought. 

In fact, when Nathanael heard that Jesus was from Nazareth he asked,

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

JERUSALEM?

Wouldn’t Jerusalem have been a better choice? It hosted the Temple and the Sanhedrin. It was home for famous Rabbi’s and the city of prophets and kings. It makes sense to me that Jesus would be raised in Jerusalem. But he wasn’t.

No, our savior was a small-town boy who was destined for big-time things. 

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Not even close to what it was 2,000 years ago.

IN CLOSING

Nazareth wasn’t anything special, and yet, the world celebrates the Nazarene. Not because of where he was from, but because of who he became and for what he did. 

Jesus came for those in big important cities and for those in small unknown towns. He came for us all, he came for you.

I like small towns, they tend to be charming, friendly, and peaceful.

Thank you Prince of Peace

Merry Christmas

Overcoming Depression, Part Two

INTRODUCTION

It’s a touchy subject and there are lots of opinions and misconceptions. For example, it’s not unusual to hear someone who has had a bad day say, “I feel depressed.” The word has become an umbrella for almost any emotional stress:

  • sadness
  • loneliness
  • disappointment 
  • grief
  • despair
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We get the blues and we get down, but it isn’t necessarily depression. 

In popular culture the word loses identity, so how do you know if you are clinically depressed? Well, there are medical and therapeutic professionals who specialize in the  treatment of depression. Please know that I am neither of those. But as it happens, my wife is a professional counselor and my daughter a practicing therapist. They have helped my understanding. And, I can read. 

NOTE: There was a time when church’s wanted ministers to counsel the members. Many of us had little or no training and were unqualified. We meant well but often waded in to waters over our heads. Today we refer to faith based mental health practitioners. 

CAUSES & SOURCES

Some of the causes of depression:

  • unrealized expectations
  • severe criticism 
  • memories
  • self-preoccupation 
  • cumulative effect from many causes

The encouraging news is that those with depression can get better, they can get help. My advice is to seek wellness with a holistic approach to body, mind, and spirit. But as a minister, I’ll limit my advice to the spiritual. Be sure to understand the following: 

If  you are suffering from depression, or think you are, please seek professional help.

men and women who have failed

THREE SPIRITUAL ENCOURAGEMENTS 

  1. Replace your self with your God. A healthy step is realizing that God loves you and wants to help. He isn’t a genie in a lamp, there are no wishes for making your life better. But you need to recognize that the Lord is on your side. He is larger than your suffering. You are not alone. Let God into your life and live in your heart.
  2. Replace your thoughts with God’s truth. Depression produces a negative state of mind, and is a destructive illness. You will want to tear yourself down, to denigrate yourself and constantly play in an endless loop a message of a guilt, failure, and blame. Those debilitating attitudes are not of God. His message for you is that you are loved, wanted, and have great value. Look to replace your destructive thoughts with his message of love. 
  3.  Replace your past with God’s future. When flat on your back in the pit of despair, there seems to be no way out and no way for life to be good again. You feel defeated and broken, with nothing to look forward to. But it isn’t true, it’s only true that you feel that way. You can’t relive or rewrite your past, but you don’t have let it define you. It’s what you choose to do each day that determines who you are. Your future is a reality that God has promised. You can trade your past with God’s future.

I’ll share with you that I’ve struggled with depression. It comes and goes. Sometimes my struggle is the crushing weight of life we all experience and sometimes it’s something for which I seek help. I’ve learned to recognize the triggers that push me towards depressive thoughts and have acquired techniques that help me avoid sinking into the pit. 

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We can get better, there is hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel!

THREE THOUGHTS

“You can look around and be distressed. You can look within and be depressed. Or you can look to him and be at rest.”

“Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 43

“In this world you will have many problems, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

TO CLOSE

In review, I realize how paltry these efforts, how insufficient my words, and what hubris to think a blog post could help overcome depression. I apologize for my inadequacy.

However, I encourage you to make good decisions. Remember, there is more to depression than the spiritual so seek healing of mind, body and spirit. Don’t suffer silently. Help is available. I got better and you can too. 

May God richly bless you as you seek his grace in your time of need. 

Shalom

Overcoming Loss, Part Two

INTRODUCTION

In Monday’s blog,  Overcoming Loss, Part One I mentioned losing my teddy bear Charlie. He would he never be replaced, but there were new things to look forward to. Can we look forward to new things when the losses are more significant? 

Loss is when we give our best effort and still lose. It’s about relationships broken by death or conflicts. Another kind is when we lose ourselves. 

ManWalkingThroughDarkTunnel
There are many kinds of loss, some more difficult than others.

THREE KINDS OF LOSS

1. LOSS OF PEOPLE

The toughest loss is losing someone: a dearly loved spouse, one of our kids, a heartbreaking divorce. 

Recovering is about the stages of recovery. There are five of them and it’s helpful to know about them, take a look:. https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/

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The bride of three years or thirty, doesn’t matter, it all hurts.

Establishing a new normal will take time, even years, and the first will be the hardest. It’s hard because the person can never be replaced. But maybe there are other people to love and who love you. There may yet be something to look forward to.

2. LOSS OF SUBSTANCE

  1. Losing a job can feel like death. It’s not unusual for unemployed people to grieve as if someone has died. 
  2. Professionals say it takes one month of searching for every $10,000 earned. If you are tying to replace a $100,000 position then it could take a year to find it. That can be very discouraging and financially difficult. 
  3. The lost job will never be restored. But it wasn’t the only job, there may yet be a new position even better than the last one.

3. LOSS OF SELF

  1. Losing yourself is losing self-respect, dignity, even integrity and character. Those losses are hard to accept and challenging to repair. It’s because they come out of your soul and ripped from your heart. 
  2. Reclaiming yourself isn’t easy. You may want to consider professional assistance. But there is good news. Unlike the first two kinds of losses, the loss of self can be restored. You have heart, a soul and determination. You can get better! 

HOMEWORK 

Don’t give up on God. If you are angry with him then tell him about it and get work to get that relationship where it needs to be. He is a fine companion when we are hurting. 

god lending a hand
We all need a little help, especially when grieving. It’s better with God than without him.

 

Read/listen to good books. Find encouragement, helpful information and motivation. 

Establish a schedule and stick with it. Don’t binge Netflix eight hours a day. Determine  each day the time you will spend job searching. Maybe find some friends to have coffee with and socialize. Keep up the house and yard. Stay busy. Be productive. Pray. 

THINK ABOUT IT

After Jesus was resurrected the apostle Peter returned to Galilee to fish. Not for recreation but to resume his commercial fishing business. Fishing wasn’t his destiny, but until he figured that out he stayed busy and productive. 

A key difference between believers and unbelievers is this: believers hurt and grieve just like unbelievers, but people of faith have someone greater than themselves . I would rather grieve having the Holy Spirit in my life then grieve without him. 

TO CLOSE

Loss is a huge topic. I pray something I’ve written has been helpful. So, from a veteran of loss to those who may be starting:  

Don’t give up, keep looking for a better day, it will come.

Overcoming Loss, Part One

MY FIRST LOSS

My earliest memory of loss was Charlie. In moving back to the US after four years in England Charlie was mysteriously misplaced. That was the explanation, misplaced, I had doubts and to this day, I till do.  

Charlie was my teddybear and closest friend.

I was five years old, brokenhearted and crushed, and that’s not pulling on the knot too hard. But I soldiered on and let him go, mostly. 

teddy bear
Not me or my teddy bear, but close, really very close.

SOME LATER LOSSES 

Losses of greater proportion were in my future. I’ve known heart breaking, gut wrenching and mind numbing loss. I expect most of us have.

Some Of My Greater Losses:

  1. a stillborn child
  2. friends in fatal accidents
  3. death of family members 
  4. shattered relationships 

Losses That Were Not People

  1. a forced exit
  2. my self-respect 
  3. losing much when much was at stake 
  4. losing hope and accepting defeat 

THE HARDEST LOSSES

There is no greater loss than the one that rips your heart out, such as the sudden death of a loved spouse, the death of your child, or the gut wrenching pain of an unwanted divorce. 

men and women who have failed

Loss comes in all sizes, flavors, and stages of life. Loss comes to us all, there are no exemptions. It can so overwhelm us that we get lost in our losses. They defeat us, take away our joy, and hover over us like dark, low hanging clouds.

Will we defeat the debilitating effects of  loss or will they define us for life?

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In Part Two of, “Overcoming Loss,” I’ll address the above questions as best I can. I hope to  give encouragement and valuable suggestions laced with wisdom. 

But for now I’ll leave you with this quote from President Lyndon Johnson,

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”

Do you believe that? Does it work for you? Overcoming a lingering loss can seem a mountain to steep to climb. But there is hope. Don’t give up.

Look for Part Two on Wednesday morning. 

Overcoming Betrayal, Part Two

MOMENTS OF DEEP BETRAYAL

Her husband moved out to move in with someone else.

The long promised promotion was given to a lesser employee.

The investigator’s report revealed one affair after another. 

Discovering her best friend was the one who stabbed her in the back.

 

THE AFTERMATH OF BROKEN TRUST 

The pain of betrayal can be so damaging that the betrayed are unable to trust, or love, or move forward with their lives. 

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Broken trust often results in broken lives.

THE BETRAYER 

  1. Blind sided you, you just didn’t see it coming.
  2. Was someone you believed would never hurt you. 
  3. Devastates marriages and destroys relationships.  
  4. Was intentionally reckless, leaving a trail of broken people. 

THE BETRAYED

  1. Can become obsessed with self-incrimination. 
  2. Are filled with bitterness and thoughts of revenge. 
  3. Are often unable to let go of the pain and embarrassment. 
  4. Sometimes retreats into a dark emotional place, and stays there.
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Is betrayal the worst cut of all? 

 

SOME THOUGHTS ON OVERCOMING BETRAYAL

THE LONG HAUL-the first step is to acknowledge that recovery will take time. Of course, it depends on the kind of betrayal, but for the worst kind, it may take a year, or two, or even longer. Deep betrayal is not unlike a death, causing grief and pain. Betrayal can also create deep anger and bitterness. It’s going to take some time to work through it so be patient. You are in for the long haul. 

CLARITY-recovery will include some introspection: “Why didn’t I see it coming?” or “How could I have trusted him?” and “Am I stupid, gullible, or blind?” Recovery wrestles with tough questions. You may discover that you’ve been naive or living in denial. If you have a history of relationships that end with you being ended, then gaining some emotional intelligence may be in order.

A HEART OF STONE-a stone heart isn’t healthy. Invulnerability only locks your pain inside. Never trusting again is a natural reaction, but it isn’t good. Be advised, you will likely experience a phase encouraging emotional withdrawal while seeking angry revenge, don’t let it consume you. Healthy forward progress isn’t found in closing your heart but in letting it open. It’s choosing a path that will lead to your best life. 

WISE SUPPORTnot walling yourself off means staying available for healthy support. Overcoming betrayal almost certainly requires assistance from others. Choose carefully. If you have family and friends that love and care for you then don’t let pride and embarrassment hold you back. We all need help now and then. Finding wise support is good and healthy. You may also need professional help. Find the support you need.

 

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

Jesus was betrayed. He knew it was coming but I’m guessing it still hurt. How did Esau feel when his mother and brother stole their father’s blessing? Did King David’s affair with Bathsheba violate trust within his household? How did Moses feel when he found his brother and fellow Israelites engaged in pagan worship? 

Many of us know betrayal in its various and toxic forms. Perhaps this blog is being read by some who have done the betraying? 

TO CLOSE

A blog can’t address all the needs, questions and issues created by betrayal. But I hope it’s offered some encouragement and comfort to those living with its wounds. 

So, to those who have been betrayed, know that I am one of you, and I pray that God will bless you and be with you on your journey to overcome betrayal’s pain. 

Shalom

Overcoming Betrayal, Part One

AN INTRODUCTION

Betrayed or Betrayal

“to deliver by treachery or disloyalty”

“willingly and willfully violating a trust”

“to reveal or disclose a confidence”

Little else cuts as deep or hurts as much as betrayal. The nature of betrayal is to willfully fracture the trust extended from another. It fractures the respect within a marriage, friendship, or close association. 

Betrayal-4edde75f206fe
Is betrayal the worst cut of all?

BETRAYAL’S WORST CUTS

  1. Vows shattered by abuse, adultery, or abandonment.
  2. By making public a closely guarded intimacy of another.
  3. Being used, manipulated and then disregarded.
  4. Stabbed in the back by a friend, partner, or employer.
  5. Promises openly given but deviously broken. 

There are many kinds of betrayal, too many. 

THE PAIN OF IT

When betrayed we feel subdued and defeated. We feel used and abused. Broken people will often attempt to break us too, using betrayal to gain their victory. 

The pain runs deep because it is such a violating act. It’s an abuse of our respect and trust. It breaks our hearts and crushes our spirit. 

broken-trust

OVERCOMING BETRAYAL 

Moving past betrayal is hard because we are not only grieved, but often angry and vengeful. It’s not uncommon for betrayed people to entertain thoughts of revenge. The betrayed wants to hurt the betrayer. 

IN CLOSING

In Wednesday’s blog I’ll try to help those who have been betrayed. The answers aren’t found in getting even, but in letting go.

I’ll give examples and offer some hopefully helpful hints for recovery. I say, “Hints” because overcoming betrayal requires gentle and sensitive language; more of a scalpel than a broad sword. 

So, stay strong, hang in there, and don’t give up. 

Overcoming Our Bad DNA, Part Two

INTRODUCTION

“People don’t change,” is something I’ve heard my whole life. Would that be an example of the Nurture argument for behavior, that people aren’t predisposed with a will to change? Actually, people can and do change. But certain aspects of our behavior can be more difficult to change than others. Within that difficulty comes the sense of being too hard, and so,

“People don’t change.”

different kinds of people
Emotionally, we all come in different shapes and sizes and from various life situations. Can we overcome our issues?

A REFERENCE

In the Jesus narrative we learn about Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot. The former denied Jesus and the latter betrayed him. The first wept bitterly but was able to reconcile with Jesus. The second evidently chose a different path, he took his own life.

Both men failed Christ. However, Peter was able to alter his behavior and move on, but not Judas. I don’t know why one was able to change and the other couldn’t. Did Peter rely on a greater and higher strength while Simon only obsessed over what he had done and plunged into despair?

 I’m a believer in change. I believe with the Spirit’s help:

Change can happen.

 

SUGGESTIONS FOR CHANGING BEHAVIOR 

STEP 1, OWN IT: Denial and disinformation keep us stuck in the mud. If we maintain denial about a behavior, and if we feed our minds the message that we are fine then change remains unnecessary. To overcome a behavior:

We must own our need to change.

STEP 2, GET SPIRITUAL: Almost all needed change is likely something the Holy Spirit is prompting within us. It’s hard enough to change on our own, so why make it harder by resisting the Spirit? Inviting the Spirit to help and support us is an excellent step towards recovery.

Holy Spirit, please lead and guide us to make healthy changes.

STEP 3, REACH OUT: There may be people you need to talk to. You may want to approach a parent, or someone from your past who contributed to that part of you that needs to change. Approaching them to gain understanding may help you. Confronting them if they willfully hurt or damaged you will help to forgive them. It will facilitate your own healing and the ability to let go of unwanted attitudes and behaviors The apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3:13:

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” 

STEP 4, BE PATIENT: Changing behavior, even with the Spirit’s support, takes time. Don’t make it be about how long, but on how much you want to change, on your commitment to overcoming. Bad attitudes and hard emotions take time to resolve. Replacing them with good attitudes and positive emotions will also take time. Don’t give up, don’t get discouraged, and definitely: 

Resist the urge to view setbacks as failure. 

A BRIEF EXAMPLE

I learned something from my father, something that was transmitted to me in childhood. He had many good attributes, but he struggled with a poor self-image and low self-esteem. When faced with set backs or failures he would say with strong emotion, “I can’t do anything right.” He was plagued with all that and I was plagued with it too. I fought it for years. Through the help of good people and applying the steps above, I discovered where my self-esteem issues came from and why I felt the way I did. I needed to change my core identity. It wasn’t easy and it took a long time, but I did it. Today I am much improved and living my best life.

For a long time I was overcome with some Bad DNA. But I learned to overcome it, to not let it defeat me. And so can you.

Change can happen.

 

Overcoming Failure, Part One

FAILURE

It can be hard to talk about, difficult to admit and challenging to cope with. But failure is something we’ve all experienced and struggled with. It can be anything from getting a “C” instead of an “A” on a report card or receiving a “positive” instead of a “negative” on a medical test. 

NATURE OF FAILURE

Recognizing failure requires only a casual glance. Like a blimp in the sky, failure looms large, is instantly recognizable and available for all to watch. Blimps move slowly, almost glacially slow, like a three-toed sloth. Failure moves away from the failed at an almost imperceptible speed. Such is its nature.

Examples of Less Serious Things

  1. Someone else got the promotion: “I’ve failed professionally.” 
  2. Struggling with your kids: “I’m failing as a parent.” 
  3. My spouse doesn’t get me: “My marriage is failing.” 

These things are important but not failures. They may be temporary setbacks. You can work towards the promotion you deserve. You can figure out how to communicate better with your children. There are ways to improve a marriage. None of these constitute failure. 

Examples of More Serious Things

  1. Being a disappointment to your parents: “Unfulfilled life expectations can be failure.” 
  2. Your marriage is in divorce: “The marriage is over, it final, its failed.”
  3. Your life-long dream went bankrupt: “Money & efforts lost, gut wrenching failure.”

The worst failures are the things that mean everything to us, the things that are stripped away, fallen apart, and forever gone. It’s a terrible feeling, final and destitute. 

FEAR AND FAILURE

What do men fear most? It’s weakness. Weakness for a man would be failing to provide for his family, failing his wife in the bedroom, failing to live up to expectations. His greatest fear is appearing weak, and therefore his biggest failure.

What do women fear most? It’s being abandoned. Abandonment for a woman suggests  she isn’t good enough, reflecting her inability to please her husband and the heartbreak of losing her family. Her greatest fear is abandonment and therefore her biggest failure.

men and women who have failed

CAN FAILURE BE OVERCOME?

The pain and pressure of gut wrenching failure can be overwhelming, subduing and conquering us. But we can break its bonds of despair and depression. We can overcome our significant failures and move our lives forward again.

It’s difficult and not quickly achieved.

In Part Two of Overcoming Failure I will provide encouragement, suggestions, and support on how to conquer and subdue our failures.

Look for Part Two on Wednesday.

Shalom

Overcoming Our Mistakes, Part Two

Mistakes vary in severity and consequence. One kind of mistake is ordering the #4 when the #5 was what you really wanted. It’s another kind of mistake to have an illicit affair resulting in catastrophic consequences. It’s the latter kind I’m writing about today.

Some mistakes we pay for over a lifetime, paying over and over again. Maybe it’s our inability to let go, to get past our remorse and self-condemnation. Some mistakes can sour our reputation like a carton of milk gone bad. They leave us defeated and subdued. 

Some people will punish us for our sins because they won’t forgive. They won’t stop flogging us for our errors; such is their passion for flogging. Typically, that happens because our mistakes hurt them or someone they love. Obsessively punishing becomes their purpose, turns into their white whale. It becomes their mistake.

That emotional pain, separation, and stained reputation can seem insurmountable. But, as hard as it may be, we don’t have to be overcome by our mistakes. 

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Suggestions For Overcoming

Clear Your Conscience. This is about humility and confession. It’s about seeking forgiveness. God forgives, but with people pardon isn’t always guaranteed. However, the first step in overcoming is in getting right with God, others and ourselves.                                                                                               

Develop a Support System.  You might want to recruit a few respected people to be your “account-a-bill-a-buddies.” Share your struggles and ask for their counsel. Have them ask you how you are doing on a weekly basis. It can be done in person, online, or by phone. Not shoulders for comfort, but people with good minds and hearts to help you. 

Learn From What Happened. Will you learn from your mistakes? Often our mistakes are influenced by the cumulative result of difficult issues; not just stupid and random carelessness. So, what needs fixing? Your relationships at home? With God? With others? Sometimes we clean up our lives by cleaning out our hearts and minds. 

Bear Your Shame. This can be really hard but there’s no getting around it. After a big mistake we feel embarrassed and ashamed. We wear them like signs around our necks. We avoid going to church, or to public venues with people we know who will be there. However, you have to come out of the cave. You may feel their judgement, disapproval and their avoidance. But if you are right with God, and have made a healthy effort to make things right with others, then lift up your head and go out ad live your life. Don’t become a victim by the ill-treatment of others. Remember Jesus, Hebrews 12:2-3

“Fix your eyes on Jesus. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame…Consider him who endured so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Decide to Move On. Here is something to grasp: “Life goes on, so you might as well go with it. Life doesn’t slow down to let you catch up.” I’m reminded of Paul in Philippians 3:12,14

“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward.” 

ManWalkingThroughDarkTunnel

In Closing

Moving past our mistakes can be a gut wrenching experience and in no way do I suggest that it’s easily done or done without pain and heartache. 

But it can be done. We can overcome our mistakes.